Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Vine in the Water

A couple weeks ago, I was asked to give the sermon at my church. I'm speaking this Sunday. I'm really excited and little nervous. I put a lot of thought and prayer into this -- I pray He will use me to spread His word where it needs to go.


A Vine in the Water

When I was a kid, my sister and I watched the Disney movie, Pocahontas. There is one scene in particular that has stuck with me over the years. Right as the Native Americans and the English are preparing to fight and all the action is building, Pocahantas and John Smith go to ask Grandmother Willow for advice. She shared a very simple lesson with them. The took her vine and dipped it in the water. From the one vine in the water, ripples formed in perfect circles, expanding outward. As Grandmother Willow said, "So small at first, then look how they grow. But someone has to start them. John Smith protested, "They're not going to listen to us." But she stated in her wise, willow ways, "Sometimes the right path is not the easiest one."

We all have a kind of Grandmother Willow. We get these same lessons every Sunday. Like today.

In today's reading from 1 Thessalonians had a similar message. The people in the church at Thessolonica lived out the message they heard from Paul, Silas, and Timothy so that the believers in Macedonia, Archaia and everywhere else the stories were spread looked up to the Thessonians. That's huge. And I'm sure it wasn't easy. But they had the advantage.

You see, all the stories in the Bible sound impossible. They do! I read about all the prophets and even those who tried to run away at first like Jonas and I think to myself. Wow, I don't know if I could ever do the things they were asked to? Can you imagine getting a task like Noah or Moses did? I can't. But they were able to do all those things because God joined them on their journeys. Not once did God say, "Hey, can you do this for me? I'll check up on you in a few weeks. Good luck!"

I thought that maybe the real, recognizable presence of God was just for other people, who had big, special, important plans in their lives. They had amazing skills that God could really use to make a difference and I was just another example of average. Woo hoo...

But I want to share one of the most amazing experiences of my life. Last spring, I woke up in the middle of the night. No real reason for it, but I wasn't going back to bed anytime soon. I rolled over and looked at the clock which said 4:13. I rolled back over, about to try to go back to sleep when I thought for a split second, "Isn't it strange that I noticed the time?" 4:13. Maybe it means something...

At this point, I was wide awake, so I opened my Bible. Genesis 4:13. Nothing. Exodus 4:13. Zip. Leviticus. Nada. Number 4:13. Zilch.

And I got bored. So I went back to bed.

A day and a half later, I had to get my dose of caffeine to prep for a full day of classes, work, and studying for exams. I headed down to Starbucks with a gift card I had leftover from Christmas. I think I bought a frappacino. I handed the woman my gift card, mumbling something about, I don't know how much is left, but hey something is better than nothing. And then, she said to me. Oh wow, your card just covers it. I looked at the register. My drink cost $4.13. The balance?

This wasn't a coincidence.

Let me prep you with a little background here. I was stressed. I was worried about my future career or lack thereof. I was questioning my friendships and my values. I had lots of projects, classes, exams and work. And I was barely keeping my head above water.

That afternoon, I met up with a new friend. She was a freshmen and we didn't know each other very well, but we had hit it off and wanted to chat before I graduated. I met her in the student union, and asked, "Bree, I have a strange question for you. Does the number 4:13 mean anything to you? Her response, well there's Phillipians 4:13. I thought, okay, I'll bite. "What's Phillipians 4:13 say?" Her reply left me speechless. "Oh you know, it's the one that says, "I can do all this through him who gives me strength."

What?!? God literally said to me, "You CAN do all this through ME. I'M the one giving YOU the strength.

Okay, God. Got it.

So the story went, here's my message Emily. Sorry, I don't get it. Here's my message for you, Emily. Sorry, no clue. Fine, here's someone who knows my word and will tell you exactly what I need you to know.

Ohhhh, got it.

God really can do anything he wants. Even for little, insignificant me.

This experience really lit a fire under me. Soon after, I accepted my first full-time job, I started making important decisions that
reflected my values and beliefs, and I began living the life that I think God's wants me to. I feel most alive, most real, most valuable, when I am serving. That's how I give, best. I love volunteering at the People's Resource Center. I enjoy doing runs, walks and hikes for great organizations. And I like lending a hand when it's needed. Now, I'm absolutely nowhere even remotely close to perfect. But I've finally found a way to use the strengths or gifts that God has given me. I'm sure I'm not done, but it's exciting to know that I am where I'm supposed to be right now.

To use a church term, I'm being a good steward of God's investment in me.

According to my dictionary app, a steward is "a person who manages another's property or financial affairs; one who administers anything as the agent of another or others.

We all know that the stuff we have, really isn't ours. It isn't going to last and it isn't going to heaven with us. It's all His. We are just stewards of his creation: ourselves, property, money, skills and talents, emotions, and so forth.

Normally when the word stewardship is mentioned in church, everyone thinks about their checkbook. Yes, financial contributions are necessary and good. Without your support, I would not have had an
amazing Sunday school experience, no youth group, confirmation class, no junior choir trip to the cathedral downtown, no musicals with Mrs. Streelman, no Christmas pageant. No air conditioning in the summer, heat in the winter. No flowers on Sunday morning. I could go on and on.

But there is so much more than money that goes into a community like this one. We are all made differently. Like in *Romans? Paul talks about how we are each a part of the body of Christ. Maybe you’re a part that teaches. Maybe you’re a part that prepares for the service on altar guild, a part that supports worship with your voice, with your hands as you ring bells, or with your presence as an acolyte or usher. Maybe you help maintain this community and the relationships by setting up coffee hour. Perhaps you reach out to those who can't be here on Sunday and deliver communion, a warm welcome, and kind, listening ear. Maybe you plan, clean up, or coordinate well. Perhaps your professional experience fits in perfectly with a need we have here. You are different from me. You are different from the person next to you. You may not have any desire to be a Sunday school teacher, but you love serving members of our community at P.A.D.S.

God gave you the gifts he did on purpose. When you look at your neighbor and think, I wish I could. Take a moment and remember that just as God gave you gifts on purpose, he also refrained from giving you others, with the same purpose.

As stewardship week begins, I ask you to think how you can best support Trinity Episcopal Church and our community internally and externally. If God has blessed you financially, please support the congregation in that way. But he has given you so much more. Where does your puzzle piece go?

Every choice, every action you take makes ripples, for better or worse. But we're all in the same pool, so let's do more than make ripples. Let's make waves.

After I graduated from Drake, I took a couple months to explore some of the churches in the area. Some I liked more than others. A few had incredible music and the worship moved me to tears. At others, the pastors' message struck a chord and made me do some thinking for the following weeks. There were others that weren't quite my cup of tea, and others that may have worked out well for me. But there is something Trinity has that no other place has. Not in Des Moines, not in Chicago, nowhere. I have a home here. There is a sense of inclusion, love, acceptance, and support that I couldn't find anywhere else. I have a really big, church family.

Now that I'm an adult -- which is hard for me to accept still -- it's so exciting to see new generations growing up at Trinity. I want all these kids to have the same wonderful family that I do here.

Ask God how you are called to be a good steward. Pray about it, but keep an open mind. As grandmother Willow said, the ripples are so small at first, but look how they grow.  Go, put your vine in the water.

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